Last week I watched my unconscious father being placed on a stretcher, and wheeled out to a helicopter. He was on his way to an intensive care unit in a city hospital. His life was hanging by a thread. I hugged my distraught mother and wiped away her tears, and told her I wouldn’t leave her alone to deal with the pain. I faced the intensive care ward with its ventilators and tubes and beeping machines. I encountered the fragility of life.
And I remained calm.
“Sue, you are so strong.”
In a way I’ve been there before. Some years ago, I sat by the side of my newborn son in the NICU. Thomas lay motionless, only his chest rising and falling, as the ventilator kept him alive. Later, I held his tiny body as he died. I am familiar with pain and illness and even death.
Yesterday it was my 30th wedding anniversary. Before leaving for work, my husband Andy presented me with a card.
“But when did you find time to buy this?” I asked. “It’s been such a difficult week. I didn’t get to the shops to buy a card for you. I’m sorry.”
Andy brushed my apologies aside as I opened the card. Inside he’d written a long message from his heart. As I read the beautiful words of love, the tears started to spill from my eyes. The stress of the past few days flowed over me, and I cried for the first time.
Life is so very difficult sometimes. We wonder how we will survive. It can seem easier to avoid pain by stepping back away from it. We can’t allow it to touch us inside where we are vulnerable. We refuse to feel. We remain calm despite the circumstances. We look strong. We carry on. It’s strange how we can function like this.
I can remember withdrawing my emotions when I suffered miscarriage after miscarriage, many years ago. I also remember being tempted to enter that state again, after our son died. I wanted to go to a place when nothing could reach me.
But where pain can’t reach, nor can love. And we need love. Love can heal.
After Thomas died, someone reminded me, “If you don’t allow yourself to feel pain, you will also not be able to feel any good emotions. You will shut everything out, bad and good.” It is the moments of love and beauty and hope that we experience amongst the sorrow, that keep us going. We need them so much.
At the present moment, I still need to be strong. My mother needs me to stay calm. But that’s okay. I still have my safe place to retreat to. My safe place isn’t a distant place where emotions have disappeared.
My safe place is in the arms of love and Love. As long as I am in that place I know I will survive.
If you’d like to share more of my grief stories, please visit my blog Sue Elvis Writes